The Best Ways to Relax in the Vail Valley

When it comes to relaxation, there may be no place closer to Cloud Nine than the Vail Valley, where a concentrated collection of award-winning spas awaits those in need of some serious TLC.

By Kelly Bastone February 1, 2013 Published in the Midwinter/Spring 2013 issue of Vail-Beaver Creek Magazine

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In the Vail Valley, a dedicated corps of Colorado’s most inspired body workers provides physical relief from overindulgence in champagne powder, while sumptuous facilities round out the restorative effects on mind and soul. Want to soak in a hot tub so beautiful that the mere sight of it soothes you before your toes even touch warm water? You’ll find that here.

Yet for the uninitiated, it can be daunting to actually walk through those frosted-glass doors and don a borrowed Egyptian cotton robe. Taking care of ourselves isn’t always a top priority—after an Instant Queue all-nighter on Netflix, we’re too tired to floss; sleep-deprived, we hit the snooze button and skip the 5 a.m. run—so it’s no surprise that we might put off a one-hour deep tissue massage. And many of us fear the unknown, the mystery of who and what awaits beyond the reception desk. With hushed hallways, dim lighting, wafts of sandalwood incense, and strains of Enya seeping through the cracks of closed doors, spas can seem more like secret sanctuaries than pit stops for recharging our engines for another lap around life’s racetrack.

With this user’s guide to Vail’s standout spas, we lift that veil and lay bare trade secrets so that you, harried reader, can choose the spa and treatment that suit you best. Final boarding call: your first-class seat on our direct flight to Cloud Nine awaits.

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Spa at the Arrabelle at Vail Square

675 Lionshead Place, Lionshead; 970-754-7754;

The Scene  This is where ordinary townsfolk come to play Cinderella and Prince Charming at the ball. Medieval castles inspired the décor throughout this larger-than-life spa, which surrounds guests with Old World elegance. Plush velvets soften the stone and ironwork, and even the entrance seems regal: an A-frame of interlaced wooden planks forms a long hallway that links the reception desk to the locker rooms, like a drawbridge leading over a moat to another world. In this space out of time, the arched wooden doors feature wrought-iron handles and tiny windowpanes adorned with metalwork; floors of polished stone ripple like silk; and brocade sheets adorn the treatment tables. Even the snacks are decadent: buttery granola and dried cranberries stave off pretreatment hunger pangs, and after the service, guests receive a scoop of grapefruit sorbet and a cool compress to help them resurface from deep relaxation. Yet for all the opulence, there’s nothing stuffy about the staff members, who receive visitors warmly—as if each were lord or lady of the manse.

Me Time  It’s worth budgeting an extra hour to enjoy the Jacuzzi. Adjoining the locker area, this massive room recalls a Roman bath, with a large, dramatically lit central pool that’s surrounded by intimate nooks for lounging and doors that open into the steam room and sauna. On one wall, waterfalls cascade gently down the floor-to-ceiling stone panels. A saffron-colored curtain preserves soakers’ sense of privacy by shielding them from the room’s entrance, and on the walls, mesmerizing paintings and glass plates provide eye candy.

The Treatment  The Gemstone Fusion Aromatherapy Massage ($235) incorporates four special massage stones and
related aromatherapies that have unique effects on the body’s energy centers: garnet, for example, grounds and calms; amethyst lightens the mind. It’s profoundly relaxing, if slightly scripted. Those preferring a more responsive treatment should opt for the Arrabelle Customized Massage (from $95), which addresses clients’ individual issues.

Claim to Fame  You don’t have to schedule a super-indulgent treatment to enjoy the Arrabelle’s soothing aesthetic. Basic waxing is also available, and services are reasonably priced ($20 and up for lips, brows, and bikini line). Best of all, waxing appointments include full use of the spa facilities.

The Y-Factor  All guests receive brown robes, which feel more masculine that white. Just like the women’s relaxation lounge, the men’s area features a stone-and-water sculpture, although its liquid babble isn’t the space’s only sound: guys also get to watch TV (whereas the ladies do not).

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Aria Spa & Club

1300 Westhaven Drive, Lionshead; 970-479-5942;

The Scene  Racquet-toting retirees mingle around the entrance to this spa, located within the massive fitness club (at 78,000 square feet, the valley’s largest) at Vail Cascade Resort. But the spa’s own ample dimensions insulate guests from the din of basketballs bouncing nearby, and a separate (but adjoining) locker room cloisters spa clients. The scent of vanilla warms the air, and the deep-hued mountain décor feels comfy rather than edgy: dark wooden lockers and chocolate leather benches give changing areas a clubby feel, while treatment rooms look more utilitarian, with basic tile and papered walls. An on-site child care facility (for kids 6 months to 8 years old) offers parents an additional perk: free supervision while you visit the spa.

Me Time  The Aria’s sole lounge (called “the Sanctuary”) is shared by both sexes, but it’s huge, dim, and blessedly quiet, with no synthesized soundtracks to interrupt your reveries. The silence makes the central fireplace feel as hypnotizing as a campfire, and the brocade armchairs and loungers encircling the stone chimney provide cozy nooks for sipping tea and staring into the flames. (A polished wood sideboard offers water and tea service.)

The Treatment  Nothing else in the Vail Valley compares to the Aria’s Moroccan Oil Intense Hydration Wrap ($149). It uses argan oil to turn skin into silk—but an even bigger treat is the chiropractic hydro table, which lowers you into a wraparound water bed where you float for a blissful, fifteen-minute reprieve from gravity.

Claim to Fame  In an industry that’s notorious for staff turnover, the Aria attracts—and retains—some of the region’s most skilled therapists, who stay on thanks to the resort’s generous benefits package and a steady, year-round customer base. Some specialists have worked at the Aria for ten years or more, which allows guests to return again and again to those who have served them well.

The Y-Factor  Guys precede a sports massage with a soak in the large, elevated Jacuzzi located inside the fitness club locker room. Wavy, blue-green tile work suggests ocean currents, and powerful jets prep muscles for deep bodywork.

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Sonnenalp Spa

20 Vail Road, Vail; 970-479-5404;

The Scene  Quaint rather than cool, this Vail Village landmark evokes a folksy Bavarian farmhouse, complete with painted wood (artfully chipped, of course) and cheerful, yellow-striped cushions on wicker lounge chairs. Treatment rooms are named for edelweiss, larkspur, and other Alpine flowers; inside, wall sconces shaped as enameled rosettes evoke your grandmother’s guest room. Just don’t expect tomblike tranquility: the treatment space abuts the fitness room, which gives this spa an energetic pulse.

Me Time  Locker rooms here are meant for changing, not relaxing, so unwind instead at the spacious poolside lounge, where white plaster benches surround a cozy sunken fireplace. Brew a cup of tea, grab an apple from the copper bucket, or take a hit from the adjacent (and incongruous) oxygen bar.

The Treatment  A Sonnenalp exclusive, the HydraFacial ($220) commands a cult-like local following for its ability to flush pores and remove blemishes—without the painful drilling typical of such services. Instead, a “vacuum wand” lifts out impurities as if by magic, delivers moisturizers deep into the skin, and imparts a glow that lasts several days. Or try Acutonics (from $155), which integrates tuning forks into a massage that aims to balance your energy field and release anxiety.

Claim to Fame  To promote spa services as a health and wellness option for all—not just jet-setters—the Sonnenalp offers a 25 percent discount to caregivers and a variety of servicemen/women: law enforcement officers, teachers, firefighters, EMTs, and the like qualify for reduced rates. And women who receive treatments or preventive mammograms at Vail’s Shaw Cancer Center get 30 percent off.

The Y-Factor  No ruffles soften the men’s steam and sauna area, where unassuming white-tiled walls re-create European traditions that have long appealed to men: the cedar-planked sauna is roomy enough to preserve several bathers’ personal space, and a cold plunge pool (something the women do without) rewards a moment of bracing discomfort with hours of invigoration.

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The Vitality Center

352 E Meadow Drive, Vail.; 970-476-7960;

The Scene  Located inside the Vail Mountain Lodge, this little spa shares space with an adjacent fitness club, complementing its focus on whole-person health and wellness. Local hardbodies flock here for Pilates, indoor climbing, and cardio classes that push outdoor athletes to their limits—and the spa provides the yin to that yang with serene, contemplative spaces that promote recovery. Bamboo pressed between panes of frosted glass gives the indoor Jacuzzi an Asian aspect; one treatment room features a square copper tub that’s distinctively Japanese. Aqua-hued mosaic tiles in the locker areas create a clean, orderly vibe, and the bare-walled treatment rooms might seem spartan if not for their nature-inspired accents (like a large, illuminated crystal that serves as a table lamp).

Me Time  In any season, the outdoor hot tubs offer idyllic retreats. Surrounded by evergreens and perched on a narrow deck that borders Gore Creek, these pools cultivate a sense of seclusion that belies their Vail Village location.

The Treatment  Health—rather than relaxation alone—is the primary goal guiding treatments at the Vitality Center, which eschews “buff and shine” sequences to offer the likes of the Moor Remedy ($285), which includes vigorous dry-brushing (to promote circulation and help the skin absorb essential oils), a bath in water fortified with nutrient-rich clay (which replenishes minerals lost through sweat and combats exercise-induced inflammation), and a therapeutic lavender-oil massage.

Claim to Fame  Some of Vail’s most accomplished adventurers (including Ellen Miller, one of only five women in the world to have summited Everest from both sides) teach classes and workshops here, coaching young climbers and leading locals on breakthrough trail runs. Exercise physiologists are also on staff, and metabolic testing equipment lets them give athletes detailed fitness assessments.

The Y-Factor  The athletic club ambience appeals to men who might otherwise feel uncomfortable in a hushed, nurturing sanctuary. The staff includes males in key positions, from the director to the head therapist, Shinji Tsuji. Prefer a masseur to a masseuse? This is the spa for you.

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Allegria Spa

100 E Thomas Place, Beaver Creek 970-748-7500;

The Scene  Located within the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek, the Allegria is anything but a ladies’ haven. It excels at catering to couples, and even teens get pampered with hair, nail, and facial services tailored to their interests and unconventional tastes. A third lounge (in addition to the single-sex spaces) allows men and women to unwind together before and after treatments. They can also pair up for part of the Aqua Sanitas sequence (a series of five relaxation areas that help prepare the muscles and mind for spa treatments): together, men and women can enjoy the first pool, where three cascades stir the water and frosted glass doors fill the room with soft, glowing light. Three spacious couples’ suites offer treatments for two, and all couples’ services conclude with Champagne and chocolate truffles.

Me Time  Even without the spa treatment, the Aqua Sanitas alone is worth the price of admission. Beyond the first pool awaits a green marble tub (filled with heated effervescent, oxygenated water), where shimmering gold maple leaves on the frosted glass doors and tree trunks outlined in mosaic tile create a woodsy appeal. A cool shower follows. Next is the steam room (or “caldarium”) made of opaline mosaic tile and colored lights. And the grand finale? The “tepidarium,” where five heated stone loungers look uncomfortable—but deliver indescribable bliss.

The Treatment  Sleep is the newest trend in treatments—spas in Atlanta and Scottsdale have incorporated naps into the services they offer—and the Allegria is the first to bring it to the Vail Valley. New for winter 2013, the 80-minute Slumber Massage ($210) starts with a lavender-scented rubdown; then, warm poultices are snuggled around your head and neck to prep you for a 20-minute nap. While you doze, the therapist gently massages your scalp with essential oils.

Claim to Fame  Most spas offer slippers in just one size—meaning they’re too small for big guys and clumsily oversized for petites. But the Allegria offers a range of options. Yes, they’re hard plastic flip-flops that offer feet little cushioning. But they’re clean and comfortable, because—miracle of miracles!—they actually fit.

The Y-Factor  Maybe it’s the emphasis on hot tubs and manly steam sessions. Or maybe it’s the straightforward spa menu, which generally forgoes New Age-y mysticism in favor of more familiar, established rituals (such as sports massage and moisturizing facials). Whatever the reason, the Allegria seems to attract men and women in somewhat equal numbers: here, guys don’t feel like the lone stallion among mares.

Spa at Four Seasons Resort

1 Vail Road, Vail; 970-477-8600;

The Scene  Everything about this contemporary spa bespeaks vacation, from the mountain aesthetic to the plush sofas that enforce an hours-long idyll. And in fact, valley visitors are the majority of the spa’s clients, who often come to celebrate a wedding or a career milestone. Nature inspires the décor: water cascades from the stacked-stone walls surrounding the room-length indoor hot tub, lamps hang from wrought-iron “branches,” aspen leaves bedeck the rugs, and treatment rooms display the names of Rocky Mountain trees. Slate tile surrounds the massive fireplace in the central lounge. And sensual touches elevate the heat therapies: eucalyptus-scented steam cleanses pores and lungs, and a freezer full of icy towels delivers glorious refreshment after a stint in the steam room or sauna.

Me Time  Bring a friend: the couples’ suites here are splendid, with luminous floor-to-ceiling windows that afford glimpses of snowy landscapes (but foil peeping Toms). Fine art and plush blankets create a luxury-home feel; private whirlpools provide convivial soaking à deux; and stone fireplaces cast a warm, cozy glow across the bone-colored tile.

The Treatment  Innovative therapists enjoy free rein at the Four Seasons, which has a history of encouraging its experts to pursue unique treatments. The Sound Sensation Massage (from $170) plays music (customized to the client’s taste) through speakers built right into the table, so you don’t just hear the sounds—you feel their vibrations. And the Hawaiian-inspired Sweet Mana Massage (from $170) features soy candles crafted by the therapist herself. As they burn, their warm, antioxidant-rich oil is used for the massage.

Claim to Fame  Like an opium den—only much healthier—the unique “slumber room” lets guests tune out after a relaxing treatment. Curtains create nooks filled with cloud-soft upholstered lounge chairs, and muted lighting on beige fabrics creates a serene ambience.

The Y-Factor  Some spas carry a single brand of men’s body products (or sometimes, none at all). But the Four Seasons boutique is bursting with men’s options, which fill a full wall and represent several product lines spanning hair and skin care, shave treatments, and sunscreens.

Spa Anjali at the Westin

126 Riverfront Lane, Avon.; 970-790-3020;

The Scene  Anything but cavelike, the Anjali’s entrance is situated in a soaring atrium where skylights illuminate a cluster of aspens that grow from the river-rock floor. The luminance continues in the sunlit lounge, and in the locker room white countertops and walls gleam in the natural light admitted by frosted-glass clerestory windows. Black tile floors and showers look cool but not forbidding, thanks in part to the simple elegance of Asian accents: bamboo stalks frame the tea service in the lounge, and sculptural grasses (rather than flower arrangements) occupy alcoves lined with gleaming stainless steel.

Me Time  If most steam rooms make you restless, try this one. The all-black interior challenges the senses and forces bathers to refocus and discern floor from wall from bench. Instead of the usual mind-numbing silence, bursts of steam erupt with the force of jumbo jet engines. But the experience is all-encompassing, and when you emerge, you feel better than sweaty—you feel downright reborn.

The Treatment  The Anjali’s aptly named Journeys promise more than just moisturizing and massage. Drawing from the traditions of three mountain cultures—the Rockies, the Alps, and the Himalaya—services incorporate regional ingredients and medicines. (Ayurvedic healing informs the $150 Shirodhara Journey, which pours a warm stream of herbal oil on the forehead’s “third eye.”) Not into chakra blessings? Try the Ponderosa Pine Therapy ($210), which alleviates tension with a heated burlap poultice containing pine, sage, and lavender.

Claim to Fame  The Westin Riverfront was Colorado’s first LEED Silver certified hotel, and the spa also operates on green principles. Local river stones grace the walls and floors; renewable bamboo appears in the hallways; sheets are organic cotton. To reduce packaging waste, massage oils arrive in 55-gallon drums that, when emptied, are recycled as barbecue grills. Even the central water sculpture—where droplets fall from the ceiling onto boulders artfully arranged on the floor—recycles water from the saline pool.

The Y-Factor  Feet that have been pinched and pummeled by ski boots find succor in the Mountain Man Pedicure ($65), which uses a lemon mask to soften overworked paws. And because the signature Spa Anjali Massage (from $140) lets the client choose his own customized oils, guys can opt for plenty of scents besides the usual florals.

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